iN VIDEO: Train hopper takes his urge for adventure through Kamloops | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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iN VIDEO: Train hopper takes his urge for adventure through Kamloops

George Graham describes himself as a nomad and rides freight trains across the U.S. and Canada, despite the safety and legal risks.
Image Credit: YOUTUBE/Jumping Off The Cliff

For as long as he can remember, George Graham has wanted to run away.

It's not because he needed to escape his home life or because there was any threat to his safety. He's simply longed for adventure since he was a kid.

He started train hopping when he was a teenager, but later took a decades-long hiatus. He has a wife in Wisconsin and three grown children. Now, the middle-aged American leaves for weeks at a time, spending hours hiding from railroad workers and sneaking onto train cars for an adrenaline rush he gets nowhere else.

Graham records his cross-country trips and posts the videos to his Youtube channel, "Jumping Off The Cliff", despite disapproval from rail companies across the U.S. and Canada. He'll spend hours in cities, sometimes mingling with transient people, waiting for nightfall so he can sneak rush onto a departing train.

Last month, he took his travels to Kamloops when he travelled from south of Lytton through to Edmonton on a Canadian Pacific rail line, hiding on the outside of freight cars and documenting the trip.

"From North Bend to Edmonton was the most fantastic trip I've ever taken in terms of beauty, scenery, railroad engineering," he said. "It's incredible what they had to do to put railroads in the Fraser and Thompson canyons."

He admired the trestles, the tunnels and the snowsheds as he travelled through the canyons on CP Rail lines.

"It's part of history. I always feel like I'm riding on this part of a nation's building, so to speak -- part of its expansion. Once those railroads were in place, it was a major change to the way things operated in both (Canada and the U.S.)," he said.

Western expansion and the extra manual labour needed to push the railroad to the coast was constantly on his mind as he travelled through B.C. mountain ranges.

Train hopping isn't safe, nor is it legal, but Graham is both fascinated with trains and with the wandering adventure.

"I've always been a nomad at heart," he said. "I read Huckleberry Finn before I could come close to understanding 90 per cent of that book. The part I did understand was the part where Huck jumps on a raft."

Instead of a raft, he chose a locomotive.

But it's not a mode of transportation he wants to encourage others to do.

"It's uncomfortable. It's noisy," he said. "And it's a miserable way to get transport, unless you're excited by the railroad and the scenery."

If caught, Graham said he could face fines or charges for trespassing, as there is no specific charge for train hopping in both Canada and the U.S.

It's also dangerous.

He knows of other train hoppers south of the border who have died or been injured, one he mentioned had three fingers cut off after bracing his hand on a rail line as he slipped.

Eighteen people have died trespassing on railroad property in Canada this year and five have been seriously injured, according to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

In B.C., one person died trespassing on railroad property this year.

In the past ten years, 681 people have died and 303 were injured while trespassing. Those incidents don't account for train hoppers exclusively, but they would be included.

Another 345 people died at train crossings in the past ten years.

“Train-hopping can lead to criminal charges, fines, or worse – you could lose a limb or your life,” Sarah Mayes, national director of Operation Lifesaver Canada, said in an emailed statement.

Operation Lifesaver is a railroad safety organization funded by both the Transportation Safety Board and Canada's railroad association. Maynes warned against train hopping, adding that rail cars can move at anytime, not just when travelling between cities.

“It only takes a split-second for an incident to occur with a train. Parked railway cars are also dangerous – never walk or climb between them. Rail cars can move at any time, and you can get seriously injured or killed. Play it safe: stay off tracks and don’t train-hop," she said.

The federal government increased the fines for trespassing on railroads last year from $100 to $500 in order to deter people from unlawfully and unsafely crossing them.

"There's a lot of that adrenaline-pumping worry that goes on, which, for me, is part of the thrill," Graham said.

The most dangerous place is the railyards. When the sun goes down, he'll start moving to the train car he hopes to station onto. At that time, it's not uncommon for cars to roll and smash into each other, he said.

"You have to be cognizant and understand how the train works," Graham said. "It's a different kind of peril."

After hopping on some trains as a teenager, then having several careers, including time in the U.S. military, he decided to try another railroad adventure "a few years ago."

He thought it would "get it out of his system," but he couldn't get enough.

After about a month back at his Wisconsin home, Graham is plotting out his next trip. With a wife of nearly 48 years and three successful children, he said he's the odd one out of the family who just can't sit still.

"I don't fit the mold," he said. "It took me a long time to understand that and accept myself."

Despite the danger, he's going to keep on his hobby and keep recording his travels. His hope is that once he's gone, his grandchildren can watch their grandpa's adventures years from now.

"I'm going to do this until it's physically dangerous for me. I'm getting older and that day is coming."

CP Rail declined to comment on this story. 

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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